Thursday, February 17, 2011

Medieval Beds

In the 14th century, peasants slept on straw mats, covered with anything available, while the rich slept on featherbeds and linen sheets. A nobleman’s bed had canopies with rich hangings, sometimes embroidered with his shield. Beds were a gathering place in wealthy homes, and were used not only for sleeping but to receive guests, who, if very important, might be invited to sleep in the bed, even if they had to share. Thus, beds were the most important piece of furniture, a place to display wealth as evidenced with fine textiles.

Birth of Louis VIII

A head sheet, as shown in the Birth of Louis VIII image, was placed over a pillow that rested against a sheet-draped bolster. Around the 16th century, these head sheets were replaced by pillowcases.

The best beds in the late Middle Ages had fabrics draped from a frame suspended from the ceiling. The frame sometimes had additional support from a bedhead. The bed itself was not usually attached to the bedhead. Beds were often set on platforms to extend the elevation, making a step up necessary.
From the 14th century on, beds were mentioned in wills. A fairly well-off family might pass down a featherbed and feather-filled bolster, but a noble family might give several beds to his descendants, along with the expensive hangings and a woolen mattress.

In later centuries, as people became better-off, they wanted better beds, and soon beds were a standard in most homes. Except for the head sheet, beds themselves have not changed that much. What has changed is the way we use them. We would never invite a guest, no matter his social standing, to share our beds, and instead of a gathering place for guests, our beds have become the most private piece of furniture in our homes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Timely Trains and Tasty Treats, or Strange Name for a Train

In a scene in my work-in-progress, my characters take a train from Baden to Zurich. In doing research, I discovered a delightful piece of 19th century history.

A Baden specialty
While surrounding countries built railroads in order to move people and commerce more economically, the Swiss resisted, not only for geographical reasons (the mountains) but also because land owners did not want to part with their land. Finally, in August of 1847, the first rail line was opened in Switzerland by the Swiss Northern Railway system. The train ran from Zurich to Baden, a distance of twenty kilometers. It took forty-five minutes, making two stops along the way.

Baden was famous for its Spanish rolls, which originated in Milan during the 17th century, when the city was under Spanish control. Later, under the laws of the Swiss canton, these rolls could only be distributed within Switzerland from Baden.

Before railroads came to Switzerland, the gentry of Zurich, eager to impress their clients at Sunday teas, sent their servants to Baden to buy the popular rolls. The servants then had to leave Baden at midnight, in order to have the rolls back in Zurich in time for Sunday morning teas.

With the opening of the rail line between the two cities, servants were sent on the train to buy the buns, bringing the delectable sweets back to Zurich, still warm. The train became known over time as the Spanisch-Brötli-Bahn, the Spanish bun train.

To me, the rolls look a little like hot cross buns, with maybe some kind of filling. No matter. If I ever visit Switzerland, I’m certainly going to buy a Spanish bun.